Cabo and Hawaii are two of the most sought-after beach destinations in the world. And with good reason as both destinations are renowned for their jaw-dropping scenery, blissful weather, and general paradise vibe.
While both Cabo and Hawaii have breathtaking natural beauty in common, they offer somewhat different travel experiences, as each destination boasts its own culture, history, and unique attractions.
That’s where we can help!
Here we provide an in-depth and honest comparison of Cabo and Hawaii to help you determine which destination is a better fit for your next beach holiday. By the end we are sure you will know which one to choose.
- A Quick Overview
- Water Activities
- Land Activities
- Food and Culture
- Accommodation & Travel
- Where to Stay According to Your Budget
- Our Verdict
A Quick Overview: Cabo vs Hawaii
Also known by its full name, Cabo San Lucas, Cabo is a small resort city located at the tip of the Mexican Baja California peninsula, sandwiched between the calm waters of the Gulf of California and the expansive North Pacific Ocean.
Originally home to indigenous tribes and later subject to Spanish occupation, Cabo offers visitors a captivating combination of tropical desert adventure and refined historic antiquity.
Located deep in the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii is the only tropical state in the United States and home to some of the world’s most legendary beaches and protected marine areas.
While most people think of Hawaii as one large island, it is in fact a collection of more than 120 archipelago volcanic islands all between 2000-4000 miles from the mainland United States. In 2019 alone, the exotic paradise had about 10 million visitors.
Cabo vs Hawaii: Beaches
There’s no shortage of postcard worthy beaches in Cabo. Most of the swimmable beaches are lined with resorts, restaurants, and bars — a huge plus if you prefer to spend your beach holidays people watching, but a downside if you prefer quiet, wild beaches.
Among Cabo’s famous beaches is Playa el Médano, a dashing crescent shaped bay that offers 2,460 feet of uninterrupted golden sand shores making it an ideal spot to beach-bum the day away.
Surprisingly, Cabo also offers a few rugged, natural beaches for travelers with a taste for veering off the beaten path. Beaches like Playa del Amor (Lover’s Beach), a sandy island surrounded by towering jagged granite rocks are undeveloped and only accessible by boat, offering a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of Cabo’s hotel zone.
When it comes to beaches, Hawaii is unmatched. The tropical state has a whopping 100+ beaches, not to mention multiple islands.
Whether you are after calm waters for a safe swim, rolling waves to surf, long ocean stretches to jet ski, or a peaceful bay to unwind, Hawaii will have a beach for you — an advantage of having so many beaches to choose from.
Compared to Cabo beaches, which typically sport golden sand, turquoise waters and punctuated mountainous backdrops, Hawaii beaches are wildly diverse. Sand ranges in coarseness and colour— shades range from gold to black and even green thanks to the lingering effects of volcanic minerals. Water ranges from crystal clear to deep blue. Backdrops range from volcanic lava rock formations to lush tropical forest.
Among Hawaii’s legendary beaches are Hapuna Beach on Big Island which has been ranked as the top beach in the United States by Conde Nast Traveler; Tunnels Beach on Kauai island which offers other-worldly snorkeling experiences; and Waikiki Beach located in Hawaii’s capital, Honolulu, a resort laden beach that offers the same crowd filled bustle of Cabo’s famous Playa el Medano, minus the colorful Mexican flare. (Recommended: Sharks in Hawaii).
Which Has Better Beaches?
In summary, both beaches in Cabo and Hawaii are gorgeous. But due to the sheer number of tourists that visit Cabo each year and the lower quantity of beaches compared to Hawaii, it is extremely difficult to escape the crowds in Cabo.
If you do not mind an occasional pester from a local vendor attempting to sell trinkets or the drumming of motorized sea sports and rowdy booze cruises in the distance, then you will have no problem enjoying Cabo’s main beaches.
If, however, you consider yourself to be a bit of an intrepid traveler, Hawaii’s beaches may be a better fit for you, as Hawaii has no shortage of off-the-beaten-track beaches to explore.
Cabo vs Hawaii: Water Activities
Hawaii has one of the highest densities of underwater species in the world and has frequently been crowned as one of the top diving destinations on the planet by leading travel publications like Lonely Planet, CNN Travel, and Smithsonian Travel.
On top of that, Hawaii has an abundance of underwater geological wonders to explore. These range from lava heads to striking rock protrusions and make snorkeling and diving in Hawaii a truly unique experience.
Cabo also offers outstanding marine experiences including snorkeling, scuba diving, and whale watching.
The downside is that many top snorkeling and diving locations such as Cabo Pulmo Beach, a thriving reef about 60 miles from Cabo’s main tourist area, require a boat transfer or a guided tour to get there.
The advantage to that though is that many snorkeling tours are often guided and include food and you can even go on snorkeling tours where there’s an open bar!
In contrast, Hawaii has several non-guided snorkeling opportunities; you just grab a map, find a bay, show up with your snorkels and go.
Which Has Better Water Activities?
If you are an experienced snorkeler or diver, or prefer guide-less activities, then Hawaii may be the better fit for you.
If, however, you don’t like to bother with the logistics of planning an outing when you are on vacation, then you will be content and happy with Cabo’s wide selection of guided activity packages. But of course, Hawaii offers plenty of guided underwater excursions too.
Cabo vs Hawaii: Land Activities
When it comes to tropical adventures like forest walks and hikes, Hawaii has an endless number of natural delights to explore.
Hiking destinations range from roaring waterfalls surrounded by green forest such as the famous Hi’ilawe Falls on Big Island, exclusive beaches such as Kauai’s Kalalau Beach which can only be accessed by the epic 11-mile long Kalalau Trail, and live volcanoes such as the Halemaumau Crater located in the legendary Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
With such a spectacular landscape – one that was made famous in movies like Jurassic Park – you’ll find helicopter tours of Kauai are another activity that’s popular in Hawaii’s most beautiful spots.
While most of Cabo’s activities and entertainment centers around the beach, Cabo also has several hiking trails to explore.
Yet compared to Hawaii where most popular hikes are well mapped, well-marked and fitted with hiking aids like steps or safety railings, hiking trails in Cabo are less traveled and you may have to do a little detective work to figure out where the trails are. This could be a draw for hiking aficionados who want to truly feel like they are on an adventure.
As Cabo is situated by the Baja Desert, the scenery is a lot more arid and drier compared to Hawaii which is primarily tropical — this means you are less likely to run into erratic weather in Cabo. Hikes in the Baja Desert Canyon, camel rides, and other such activities outside the main hotel zones usually require pre-booked transport and a guide.
Which Has Land Better Land Activities?
If you want to supplement your beach holiday with adrenaline packed hikes and adventure excursions, then Hawaii is by far the better choice — the sheer quantity of nature excursions is an attraction in itself.
But if you are planning to do guided outdoor activities or you are only travelling for a few days and can’t risk unpredictable weather, then Cabo may be the better option for you.
Cabo vs Hawaii: Food and Culture
Despite being a huge tourist destination, Cabo offers an exciting glimpse into Mexico’s vibrant culture. You will hear Spanish being spoken, you will have opportunities to try authentic Mexican cuisine, you can listen to traditional Mexican music, and you will have a chance to learn about Mexico’s colonial past.
Cabo attracts top culinary talent from all over the world, with restaurants showcasing a wide variety of gastronomical experiences for both connoisseurs and no-frills foodies alike.
Cabo’s high-end options serve gourmet renditions of contemporary Mexican and international fare. Some well-known examples include Cocina de Autor, an exclusive Michelin chef led restaurant that offers an eclectic 10 course tasting menu, Sunset Da Mona Lisa, an Italian restaurant that is renowned for its seafood dishes and dramatic cliffside location overlooking breathtaking views of Cabo, and LaFrida, an exquisite blend of art, history, and cuisine inspired by the late artist, Frida Carlo.
There’s also an abundance of authentic family-run restaurants in Cabo where diners can try signature delicacies such as Mexican chocolate clams, tacos de pescado (fish tacos), and Smoked Marlin tortillas.
Though sometimes a little gimmicky, Cabo’s colourful street markets offer an impressive range of traditional artisan Mexican crafts and goods, many of which are made and sold by descendants from indigenous tribes. The markets are a great way to meet and support traditional Mayan, Aztec, and Huichol people.
Despite being part of the United States, Hawaiian culture is distinguished from the mainland by its indigenous history and unique mix of eastern and western customs.
Like most cultures with a strong indigenous influence, Hawaiian culture upholds a deep connection with nature and strong beliefs in spirits and traditional gods. When combined, Hawaii’s distinct culture and remarkable tropical surroundings will have visitors — even fellow Americans — feeling like they are in a completely new and foreign land.
Due to Hawaii’s sheer size and wide variety of islands, it is quite possible to break out of the tourist bubble — just head to a less touristy island or stick to the less popular beaches. Several resorts offer cultural activities like Flower Lei making to Hula dancing. On top of that, the state offers more than 50 museums with exhibitions that range from the infamous Pearl Harbor attack during WWII to historic Tsunami’s and traditional tribal art.
Hawaii also offers a variety of local food specialties, many of which are a fusion of Chinese, Filipino, Korean, Japanese, Samoan, and American cuisine among other influences.
Examples of local delicacies include Poke, a colorful raw fish, fruit, and veggie dish, Saimin, a hearty egg-noodle soup, and Luau, a taro leaf stew also known as Hawaii’s comfort food.
Like Cabo, Hawaii also has several fine dining options, most of which are located at the luxury resorts and in Hawaii’s larger cities like Waikiki.
Which Has Better Food and Culture?
Evidently both Cabo and Hawaii have rich cultures.
But if you are more drawn to the sounds and tastes of Latin American culture then Cabo will be a better fit. Although that said, Cabo is considered less authentic than other destinations in Mexico.
If you are more interested in Pacific indigenous culture, war history, and Asian fusion cuisine, then Hawaii is a better option.
Cabo vs Hawaii: Nightlife
With a growing bar and restaurant scene, Cabo has emerged as a popular spring break, bachelorette, and bachelor party destination.
Daytime booze cruises are a popular pastime among tourists looking to maintain their buzz while exploring the ocean.
And when the sun goes down, visitors can head to the heart of Cabo’s nightlife, a two-block stretch near Cabo’s marina. Trendy bars like the famous three-floored El Squid Roe stay open into the wee hours of the morning, offering chill DJ sets by day and transitioning into bumping dance clubs by night.
Compared to Cabo, Hawaii’s nightlife is more chilled. Laidback tiki influenced beach bars and live music are more common than rowdy neon-light laden night clubs.
In 1986, Hawaii raised its drinking age from 18 to 21 to comply with the United States federal drinking age, making it a little less popular amongst the college spring break crowd.
That being said, there are some livelier party joints to discover if you are willing to venture. Spots like the Blue Dragon Tavern & Cosmic Musiquarium on Big Island offer a night club like vibe during the later hours of the evening.
Which Has Better Nightlife?
If you are planning a party centric vacation such as a bachelorette party, then Cabo is a better choice. But there is plenty of fun to be had in Hawaii too, especially if your style of partying and evening fun is more easy-going.
Cabo vs Hawaii: Accommodation & Travel
Above everything else, Cabo is a resort city, and so naturally it offers a massive variety of places to stay ranging from luxury all-inclusive five-star resorts such as the famous Montage Los Cabos where rooms start at $2,000 to Airbnb’s, no-frills hostels, and budget friendly hotels. The further away you stay from main beaches such as Playa el Medano, the cheaper the accommodation tends to be.
Cabo is just a short plane ride away from American states in the south like California, with airports like LAX offering over 28 non-stop flights a day. (Recommended: Do You Need a Passport For Cabo?)
Options for accommodation in Hawaii are just as diverse as in Cabo, but significantly more expensive thanks to Hawaii’s remote location.
While a week in 2- or 3-star accommodation for two starts at $784 in Cabo, it starts at $1,050 in Hawaii. In Cabo, a week in 4- or 5-star accommodation for two starts at $2,401, while in Hawaii it starts at around $3,689.
Unlike Cabo, travelling to Hawaii does not require a passport for Americans. But travel time to Hawaii can be significantly longer than travel to Cabo, especially if departing from northeast hubs like New York, where a non-stop flight to Hawaii averages 11-13 hours compared to a non-stop to Cabo which averages 5.5 hours.
Which is Better For Accommodation & Travel?
Being more expensive and slightly harder to get to, Hawaii is a better if you are looking to splurge on a special occasion such as a honeymoon or anniversary.
So Cabo may be a better choice if you are planning a shorter vacation or need to be more budget-conscious.
Cabo vs Hawaii: Where to Stay According to Your Budget
Shoestring: Set in the heart of Cabo within walking distance of the beach, restaurants and nightlife, Sofia Hostel Cabo is a friendly hostel with a lovely garden and activities.
Budget: Sirena del Mar is spectacularly located on top of a cliff, but still just three minutes walk to a beach, and 15 minutes drive to downtown Cabo. There you’ll get incredible seaside views, a private beach area, terraces to soak up the sun and an outdoor swimming pool.
Luxury: Esperanza, Auberge Resorts Collection has to be one of the top five-star hotels in the world. The exceptional service, landscaped grounds, beachfront infinity pool, spa, and even free yoga sessions – all set right beside the sea and beach – make this place an unbelievable Cabo getaway.
Shoestring: Just one minute from the beach and with free bike rental, Hakuna Matata Hostel on Maui is fun, cheap and friendly. You’ll be making memories in no time here, and without damaging your bank account.
Budget: Located in the heart of Waikiki, 2 minutes walk to the famous Waikiki Beach and surrounded by shopping and dining is the luxury boutique Halepuna Waikiki hotel. This four-star hotel will stretch budgets, but the panoramic views of the ocean and city – alongside the gorgeous infinity pool – will be worth it.
Luxury: Montage Kapalua Bay on Maui is one of those hotels we all wish to stay in one day. It’s extravagant beachfront luxury on a 24-acre landscaped resort with unparalleled views to the sea and beach access. It’s everything you’d expect of a five-star resort and more.
Our Verdict: Cabo vs Hawaii
Ultimately the decision between Hawaii and Cabo comes down to your preferences. But as a rule of thumb, if you are after a spicier, livelier holiday experience then Cabo will be more your speed.
If you are looking to rest, recharge, or celebrate a special but intimate occasion, we recommend you consider Hawaii.